SEO Services Buyer’s Guide: How to Find the Best SEO Company

Use this guide to find the right SEO partner for your business.

What are SEO services?

First off, no two SEO campaigns are alike, so any agency that offers a standard, cookie-cutter solution for SEO is going to at best be unsuccessful and at worst be damaging to your business. You need a custom solution because everything about your situation is unique, such as:

  • Your website
  • Your competition
  • Your industry and niche
  • Your goals and objectives
  • Your products and services
  • Your brand’s history with SEO
  • Your position in the marketplace
  • Your complimentary marketing efforts
  • And a litany of other reasons your business is unique.

However, there are four common SEO services that your business might need help with. These services include:

  • Onsite and Technical SEO
  • Keyword Research and Analysis
  • Content Creation and Optimization
  • Internal and External Link Building

Onsite and Technical SEO

Onsite and technical SEO is a great starting place if you’re just getting started with SEO or are in need of a complete overhaul of your SEO strategy. These services assess your website’s ability to rank within the search engine results based upon industry best practices and advice straight from the search engines themselves.

These services typically include an SEO audit of your website to identify potential issues with your site’s code, structure, content, etc. and provide recommendations and fixes.

Keyword Research and Analysis

The words that searchers type into a search engine are referred to as keywords or queries. Optimizing your website for these keywords and phrases will help you rank within the associated search engine results pages (SERPs).

Keyword research services typically involve research into your niche and competition to discover how people are searching within your industry (and the questions they are asking) and how they are finding your competitors’ websites.

Content Creation and Optimization

To rank for the keywords and topics your audience is searching for you need to have pages or content that addresses those topics. These pages also need to be optimized for those specific search results (based on searcher intent, preferred format, onpage search factors, etc.) to have the best chance to rank well.

These services typically involve an agency designing and creating web pages for your website based on keyword research, niche and audience analysis, and your specific goals.

Internal and External Link Building

Along with content quality, links are a major factor in determining search rankings. Search engines view links from other websites as votes or endorsements of the quality of your pages — the more relevant, quality links your page has, the better chance it has to perform well in search. This same principle applies to your website’s internal links — the more internal links you point to a page, the more important search engines will view that page.

These services typically involve an agency contacting other relevant websites within your space and promoting your pages to try to convince them to link.

The top SEO companies will be able to provide these services and explain how they will deliver them to you.

Questions To Ask During Exploratory Calls

Asking the right questions during an interview with a potential partner is critical to finding the right SEO agency to work with. As you set up calls with prospective companies, keep these questions in the back of your mind and make sure to ask them during exploratory phone calls.


Use this handy cheat sheet to spot potential red flags as well as ask the right questions to drill down past the fluff and determine whether an agency is a good fit or not.

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Process and Execution

  • Who writes the content you deliver?
  • How do you scale your SEO campaigns?
  • What does your link acquisition process look like?
  • How do you find and identify worthwhile link targets?
  • What do you need from me and/or our in-house team?
  • Do you purchase links or use Private Blog Networks (PBNs)?
  • Will you create new content for us, optimize our existing pages, or both?
  • Can you break down the specifics of the strategy you’ll employ and itemize the services you’ll provide?

Beliefs and Culture

  • Do you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines?
  • Why should I trust your team to write content for my brand?
  • What types of results do you expect to see with my website and what would the timeline look like?

Reporting and Documentation

  • What tools and platforms do you use?
  • What metrics and KPIs do you track/report on?
  • How frequently will I receive updates on my campaign?
  • How many new backlinks should we expect each month?
  • Who will be my main point of contact and can I meet them?

Contracts

  • How long are your contracts?
  • What does the on-boarding process look like?
  • What happens if you don’t meet agreed-upon deliverables or quotas?

Proof of Work

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What types of clients do you typically serve?
  • Have you done any work in my industry or niche?
  • Do you have any referrals from current or past clients?
  • Have you ever gotten a client penalized or demoted in search?
  • Do you have any case studies or can you show me examples of your work?

To find the best SEO partner for your business, you need to ask the right questions. Asking the tough questions will elicit honest responses that will help you properly evaluate agencies and determine who you should hire for SEO.
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Red Flags When Hiring an SEO Company

Unfortunately, there are some bad-faith actors in the SEO industry (which industry doesn’t have a few bad apples?). But the good news is they are typically easy to spot!

Keep an eye out for these red flags as you vet SEO vendors, and walk away immediately if you encounter any of them.

There is no transparency and/or they won’t clearly explain what they intend to do for you.

  • If they can’t clearly communicate their strategies and tactics, they either don’t know what they’re doing or they’re using shady, black-hat techniques.

They are non-communicative or very slow to respond when you ask questions.

  • Open and consistent communication is essential to a successful SEO partnership, so issues with communication during the purchasing process are a bad sign.

They provide the option to choose the anchor text of backlinks.

  • Natural backlinks are published by other websites and your SEO agency shouldn’t have control over anchor text because they don’t own or control those websites (if they’re executing white-hat link building).

They promise thousands of links over a short period of time.

  • High inbound link velocity is a sign of automation and a negative signal to search engines — building real links takes time because you have to convince another (usually busy) human to link to you.

It’s not clear or easy to find out who the humans behind the agency are.

  • If you don’t see any real faces on the website, it’s usually an indication that many of the company’s processes are automated by technology or out-sourced to cheaper, off-shore labor.

There is no office location or mailing address listed on the website.

  • Many agencies manage remote teams or have multiple offices which is fine, but if you can’t even find a mailing address then something is off.

The agency website isn’t indexed in Google.

  • Run a quick Google search for the firm’s brand name — if you don’t see any results then they have either been de-indexed or they’re horrible at SEO, both of which are reasons to avoid this vendor.

You see mostly negative, few positive, or no online reviews and/or testimonials.

  • Reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt as anyone can leave them (good or bad), but a trusted agency that has been in operation for a number of years should have a decent amount of reviews (again, good and bad).

The company’s website lacks case studies or proof of work.

  • If you can’t find any evidence of success or proof that the agency can achieve results, they probably can’t.

Claims to have a relationship with Google.

  • Anyone claiming to have a relationship or secret “in” with Google is lying and distrustful — the only way to get preferential treatment in Google’s search rankings is by paying for it, with PPC.

Guaranteed #1 rankings.

  • While there are best practices to follow and strategies that will put you in the best position to perform in search, at the end of the day Google controls the rankings and there is no way to guarantee #1 rankings within any SERP.

Says they will submit your website to thousands of search engines.

  • This isn’t how search engines work, as long as your website is crawlable, search engines will find it and index it, there is no submission process and any agency that says this is either deceitful or incompetent.

No evidence of thought leadership or industry involvement.

  • Reputable agencies regularly produce industry-leading content, speak/present at conferences, and provide helpful training resources for their audiences.

If you spot any of these red flags during your vetting process, immediately eliminate that SEO company from contention and move on. You need an SEO partner you can trust, and these red flags signal an unscrupulous vendor.

How Much Does SEO Cost?

It’s time for everyone’s favorite SEO answer — it depends. Since every situation is unique (based on industry, competition, goals and objectives, complimentary marketing, etc.), there is no standardized pricing for SEO services. However, as you vet potential agencies with the tools you’ve learned here, you’ll be able to shortlist the best SEO companies and they should have similar price points. You can also learn more about the average SEO costs below.

SEO Pricing

There are no right or wrong pricing models for SEO, but to familiarize yourself with the potential options you might encounter during your vetting process we have shared the common SEO pricing models we’ve seen across the industry below.

Hourly Rates

Providing SEO services at an hourly rate is a common pricing model for SEO agencies. The average range for hourly SEO rates is $100-$150 per hour (according to Ahrefs).

  • Pros
    • Guaranteed amount of time spent on your campaign.
    • Easy to predict costs in the short term.
  • Cons
    • Challenges with scaling as hours are restricting to the agency.
    • No incentives to go above and beyond, the agency is focused on fulfilling time rather than goals.

Monthly or Yearly Retainers

Monthly or yearly retainers are also popular pricing models with the SEO industry. The average monthly retainer is ~$5,000 per month (according to Ahrefs).

  • Pros
    • Agency has the flexibility to offer a variety of services and a more holistic SEO service for you.
    • Set a budget, your costs won’t fluctuate and you can plan for long-term results and scale easily as your project grows.
  • Cons
    • It can be challenging to assign each dollar to a particular service or result.
    • Typically involve longer contracts or engagements, which can become problematic with the wrong agency.

Project-based Rates

Pricing on a per-project basis is another common pricing structure for SEO services. The average range for per-project SEO pricing is $501-$1,000 (according to Ahrefs).

  • Pros
    • Tangible pricing model, you pay for a project and get that project completed.
    • Don’t pay if work isn’t delivered or completed.
  • Cons
    • Siloes SEO efforts, limiting overall efficacy.
    • Typically higher prices as the agency has to overestimate how long it will take to complete the project to protect against last-minute changes or scope creep.

Pricing model shouldn’t be a deal-breaker if you think you’ve found the right SEO agency, but it’s good to know the pros and cons of each so you can evaluate whether or not they align with your goals.

How Do I Choose a Company for SEO?

There are many capable, excellent SEO agencies out there that can help you achieve your search goals. However, there are also incompetent firms and unsavory vendors that will gladly take your money and provide no results. Download this checklist to help you find the best SEO company for your business!

You can also get advice on hiring an SEO agency straight from Google in the videos below:

 

Read a complete breakdown of this video here.

Google also released this helpful video:

 

If you would like to learn how Page One Power could help you improve your search performance, please reach out here. You can also download our Field Guide to learn more about what it’s like to be a Page One Power partner.

Thanks for reading and best of luck on your search...for help with search!

 

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